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AMERICAN MORNING

Crucial Tuesday Primaries; Early Voter Turnout in Texas; Don't Forget Rhode Island and Vermont; Recession Fears

Aired March 4, 2008 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Thanks very much for being with us on this Tuesday, the 4th of March. Huge day in politics. Doesn't get much bigger than this. I'm John Roberts.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. Super Tuesday part two, I guess, is what we're calling it. Kiran has the morning off. Glad you're with us.

ROBERTS: Call it what you want. Super Tuesday, crucial Tuesday, critical Tuesday, the last stand of the Democratic candidates. The first polls opened in Vermont just a couple of seconds ago. Polls will open in Ohio at the bottom of the hour, and it's on to Rhode Island. In Texas, 370 delegates at stake for the Democrats today, with Ohio and Texas being the big prizes.

In Texas, voters can cast ballots in the primary and if that wasn't good enough, attend a caucus after the polls close. Democrats award their pledged presidential delegates based on a combination of the two in what's known as the Texas two-step; two-thirds in the primary, a third in the caucus.

For the Republicans, a total of 256 delegates are at stake today. John McCain needs 144 more delegates to clinch the nomination and put Mike Huckabee out of business. We have the best political team on television at the ready across the country.

In Texas, our Jessica Yellin is in San Antonio this morning. Ed Lavandera at a polling place in Dallas. Ali Velshi with the CNN Election Express in Bandera. Weather may affect voter turnout in Texas, Ohio and Vermont. Our Jim Acosta is live in Cleveland for us this morning, and Dan Lothian live in Williston, Vermont.

Let's start with Jessica in San Antonio, home, of course, of the Alamo. Jessica, Hillary Clinton has been stumping hard for the Latino vote, holding rallies in towns along the Mexican border. Is she expected to hang on to what is part of her traditional base there in Texas?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's looking right now, John, like she will. Polls should suggest that she should. But this state as a whole is, as they say down here, tight as a tick. Barack Obama and Senator Clinton have been inundating voters here with ads. Senator Clinton running a new negative ad against Barack Obama, taking a knock on him, saying he's been too busy running for president to do his job, overseeing NATO in Afghanistan on the Senate. So it's getting very negative, very mean. And here's Senator Clinton punching hard with her closing argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For me, this election comes down to everybody deciding who they'd hire to do this job. Because that's really what it comes down to, who you want in the White House. And I would be so honored at the end of this long job interview we've had for about a year, if you were to decide tomorrow that you think you want to hire me to be the next commander in chief and president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Senator Clinton obviously saying that she is the one who is (A) best fit to be commander in chief and, (B) most ready to be the steward of the economy. But Barack Obama and his team continue to hit their themes of hope, change. And also now, Barack Obama making the point that he has won the most contests, the most states. So whoever wins Texas and Ohio is not necessarily going to be the leader. In other words, even if Senator Clinton wins these two big states by a small margin, she still won't have enough delegates to be the nominee. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think at this point the question is no longer is it a big enough state or is it a state with too many black people, or is it a state that is in the Midwest or is it a caucus state. We've won states and we've won delegates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Both of these candidates essentially neck and neck in these two major contests, Texas and Ohio. Of course, Rhode Island and Vermont vote also. There will be no doubt a lot of pulling of hairs tonight and intent watching. Some of the results here in Texas could come in very, very late because of their very confusing returns of this state -- John.

ROBERTS: Late in Ohio as well because a lot of the ballots there will be counted by hand. Jessica Yellin for us this morning. Jessica, thanks. Lots of politics to talk about there in Texas. We'll get back to you a little bit later on this morning -- Alina.

CHO: And if the politics isn't enough, voters will be fighting the weather in today's primaries. Polls set to open at the bottom of the hour in Ohio. That's 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. Snow, sleet and freezing rain expected throughout the day.

And new pictures just in to us from Dallas where they're actually seeing snow and ice. Rob Marciano at the weather update desk tracking it all for us. And, Rob, John and I couldn't believe it when we were just seeing the pictures or talking about it. Snow in Dallas? Is that true? ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it is. And it's a record. I mean, they have seen snow this time of year in Dallas, but the most they've ever seen is less than an inch of snow, and that was back in 1917. So we broke almost 100-year-old record in Dallas, and this is definitely an extraordinary event. Bad timing, of course. The good news for Dallas and Texas, most of the bad weather is done.

All right. Here is the radar. A lot of snow heading through up to Arkansas now, and we'll slide the map up towards Missouri and Ohio. Heavy snow is expected actually in places farther south and west than Ohio proper. It looks at this point that you have to go pretty far north of Dayton to really get into the ugly stuff. I think the northwest corner of the state will probably see the most and then Cleveland will see just a mix of ice and freezing rain throughout the day today. So it's just not a good day for voters today. And even south of that front, we'll see significant rainfall.

So there you go. Fort Wayne to Detroit, significant snowfall expected there. Of course, Vermont happening today. They're also under a winter weather advisory, winter storm warning. This is not for necessarily heavy snow, but for, again, a mixture of rain, sleet, snow and freezing rain throughout the day from Buffalo all the way up to parts of northern Vermont. Then on top of that, we have got flood watches and warnings for heavy rain expected from New England back through the mid Mississippi River Valley.

And then two tornado watches out today. We had reports of damage and injuries in Forest, Mississippi. Camp Shelby last night around 11:00, there are some thunderstorms rolled through there. Fourteen injuries said to be reported to be minor at this point, but, nonetheless, dangerous weather happening across the south as well.

Busy weather day. Busy day politically, and that's the way it is. Alina, back up to you.

CHO: Boy, a lot to watch especially in Ohio when you consider there could be power outages that may keep people away from the polls today. All right, Rob, thanks so much.

MARCIANO: Yes.

CHO: We'll check back with you later -- John.

MARCIANO: I'll be here.

ROBERTS: Six minutes after the hour. And with the big Texas primary today, our Ali Velshi is winding down his tour of Texas. He has been traveling around the state in the CNN Election Express talking to voters about the economy. And today finds Ali in Bandera, Texas, not Antonio Bandera, Texas. But the hat is back. Ali, good to see you.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, too. Good morning, John. This is the last stop on the Election Express. The hat is back because it's not like Ohio, but it is cold here in Bandera. This is the cowboy capital of the world. About an hour and a half, you'll start to see people right behind me at the library. That's where they're going to be voting in Bandera.

There's been a big, heavy voter turnout already in the advance voting, so that's an interesting thing here. This is a mainly Republican town, but we've met a lot of Democrats around here. You know, we've got a lot of things to talk about right now. Warren Buffett is saying yesterday on television that the economy is for all intents and purposes in a recession by all common sense measures.

And then, we had another record on the price of oil almost hitting $104 a barrel, $103.95 during the course of the day. The settle number, the number that which is settled at the New York Mercantile Exchange was 102.45, and it is creeping its way up there. We are feeling it in gas prices.

And yesterday, we spoke to a few people. The first one is the owner of a fast food operation. She says these oil prices are really affecting her. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CATHERINE DOLFUSS, TEXAS RESTAURANT OWNER: It's affecting us tremendously in all aspects, not only in the food, but in sodas. All the soda companies are raising our soda prices and your to-go boxes, the styrofoam and the cups and the straws and the napkins. All of that is also getting raised because that also has to be delivered out here by trucks.

RICK CLAUSEN, TEXAS ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: A lot of it, I think, is somewhat media-driven. Every media outlet -- I'm not picking on you all, but every media outlet overemphasizes some things. You know, the headlines are 200-plus percent increase in mortgage foreclosures, and the real headline should be the mortgage foreclosure rate went from a quarter percent to a half a percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: So that's a comment we've sort of had in a few places. Not a lot of it, but some people saying the media is hyping this whole thing and talking the economy down. I'll be back in a little while to talk of stagflation. That is starting to surface around here, and I want to have a look at where we are in the economy compared to where we were when stagflation was a big deal in 1980. I'll be back with that a little later, John.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to it. Ali, thanks very much. Stay warm.

And stay with CNN for the best coverage of the crucial primaries. We'll have up to the minute results from Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont on CNN's "ELECTION CENTER" tonight, starting at 7:00 Eastern. And join us for a special early edition of AMERICAN MORNING 5:00 a.m. Eastern. We'll have the final numbers for you, analysis and the best political team on television. Looking forward to that.

CHO: And an early morning for all of us. Veronica de la Cruz here with other stories new this morning. Hey, Veronica, good morning.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you. Nice to see you, Alina. John, good morning. And good morning to all of you out there.

The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East will brief the Senate today. Admiral William Fallon is expected to tell the Armed Services Committee that security in Iraq has improved significantly, but those gains are not irreversible and violent extremism remains a threat to Iraq's government.

Meantime, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is back in the Middle East this morning, trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. She's scheduled to meet with Palestinian officials within the hour in the West Bank. Then she plans to meet with Israel's foreign minister in Jerusalem later today. Speaking in Cairo earlier, Rice blamed Hamas militants for derailing the U.S. backed peace talks.

Federal investigators this morning say the fires which destroyed three $2 million homes outside of Seattle could be the work of ecoterrorists. The homes were not yet occupied, and a banner left at the scene questioned whether they had been built using green construction standards and was signed with the initials of the radical environmental group, Earth Liberation Front or ELF. Nobody was hurt in the incident.

Faster airports screenings could soon be a reality. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff has ordered a review of the whole security screening system at airports. Chertoff told "USA Today" the plan is to make "significant changes to remove some of the burden over the next 30 to 45 days." He also wants crews and passengers in private jets to provide their names, birth dates and other information before take off, so they can be checked against terrorist watch lists.

And millions of dollars in gift cards could soon become worthless. Sharper image which recently declared bankruptcy has announced it is no longer accepting gift cards. And that's because under chapter 11, gift cards are viewed as a loan to the company and not cash. Analysts warn as more businesses file for bankruptcy, shoppers with unused gift cards stand to loose $75 million.

And that is what is new this morning. I'll send it back to you, John and Alina. And, you know, with the busy holiday season, I'm sure there are going to be a lot of people frustrated. They can't use those gift cards.

CHO: There's nothing I hate more than opening up my wallet, finding a gift card and then finding out it's expired.

DE LA CRUZ: Yes.

ROBERTS: Yes. Nothing worse than wasting money either.

CHO: That's right.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks very much. The polls in Texas aren't open yet, but the winners could already be decided. We'll go live to Texas to find out how a huge number of early voters could swing the vote there.

And Hillary Clinton doing some late-night stumping before today's big primaries. We'll show you how she's spent her election eve as we go out this morning on a picture from Williston, Vermont, where the polls are open there. Nobody is showing up yet, though, for crack of dawn voting. But they certainly will. We'll be right back with more of AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: We are back with the "Most Politics in the Morning." The polls in Texas open in less than two hours' time, but the state is well on its way to a record for turnout in a primary election. An estimated two million voters have already cast their ballots early. That's about 60 percent of registered voters.

Our Ed Lavandera is live in Texas, in Dallas, Texas, this morning. Ed, where is the biggest turnout been for all of this?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know the higher concentrations in Houston and the Dallas area as well as Austin as well. You know, that two million number you talk about, John, is actually five times greater the number of early voters that was seen in 2004. Record turnout, as you say, is expected. And many people here are scrambling to figure out just who are these voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): It's been more than 30 years since Texans have received this much love from presidential candidates.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: God bless you Lubbock.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I am proud to be part of the El Paso, Texas, family.

LAVANDERA: That same love is showing up the polls. Early voting turnout in the Texas primary is five times greater this year than in 2004, with Democrats outvoting Republicans three to one.

JULIA OLIVIER, TEXAS EARLY VOTER: I'm a first time voter, so I really wanted to make sure I was on top of everything. That's why I voted so early.

JUAN NAVARRO, TEXAS EARLY VOTER: Beat the crowds, definitely. There was still a long line when I voted.

LAVANDERA: State officials say there's a simple reason for the high turnout.

PHIL WILSON, TEXAS SECRETARY OF STATE: People believe this time when they vote in their primary, they're having a chance to exercise their right and officially pick the next president of the United States. They're more motivated.

LAVANDERA: Democratic pollster, Leland Beatty, is crunching the early numbers. He says about 60 percent of early voters have never turned out in a Democratic primary.

LELAND BEATTY, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: That will take your breath away if you're campaigning, trying to make sure that you're reaching or covering all of the people who are voting.

LAVANDERA: Beatty adds that Republicans switching sides make up about eight percent of the Democratic vote. Some say that's a good sign for Obama. But Beatty also says women, especially those over the age of 40, are turning out in strong numbers, too. And some suggest that's good news for Clinton. But what isn't debatable is that the candidates are pouring big money to win these votes. In Texas, Obama and Clinton have spent $12 million on television ads alone.

BEATTY: On the Democratic side, with this much money, we're seeing kind of a Coke and Pepsi battle. When you have this much money, you can really drive a market.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And John, what's also fascinating, if you look at the numbers by county, in five of the largest suburban counties, and here in the state of Texas, when you talk about a suburban county, you're talking about highly Republican districts. In four out of five of those counties, Democrats are highly outvoting Republicans -- John.

ROBERTS: It's going to be an interesting day down there in Texas. Ed Lavandera for us this morning. Ed, thanks very much. Big day, huh?

CHO: Coke and a big day. Coke and Pepsi battle. I like that.

Hillary Clinton trying to score some more late night laughs. Fresh off her "Saturday Night Live" appearance this weekend, Clinton appeared on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" last night. Take a listen to his first question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Tomorrow is perhaps one of the most important days of your life. And yet, you have chosen to spend the night before talking to me. Senator, as a host I'm delighted. As a citizen, frightened. Your response?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is pretty pathetic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Hard to get a rise out of Jon Stewart. But apparently, Hillary Clinton managed to do that last night. She went on to say the vigorous campaign was good for the country. Also said she was feeling "very optimistic and excited about Ohio and Texas." I guess, what else is she going to say? Right?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Exactly.

CHO: She's optimistic.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHO: She says she's just getting started.

ROBERTS: Very defiant there today...

CHO: That's right.

ROBERTS: ... in the face of this potentially being her last stand according to people.

(CROSSTALK)

CHO: Yes. We'll have to see. Her husband says she's got to win both Ohio and Texas. We'll have to wait and see what happens. All right.

In the razor-close Democratic race, neither candidate can afford to surrender a single delegate. That's why they're devoting unprecedented attention to New England's smallest states. Coming up, a look at whether the primary push is paying off.

And which campaign put the press corps in the men's room? You aren't going to believe this story. Find out in your "Hot Shot." That's next on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." The Clinton campaign says the media is being unfair. Well, we may have found the reason why. Take a look at this.

It's your crucial Tuesday "Hot Shot." Can you believe this? Senator Clinton's campaign set up a traveling press corps in the men's room at the Burger Activity Center in Austin. Got to love that laptop next to the urinal as you just saw there. Guess what? Dinner was even served there, too. Clinton spokesman Doug Hattaway said, "These accommodations should in no way be taken as a comment on the quality of our media coverage." But it makes you wonder, doesn't it, John?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Interesting to see how many captions can you come up with for this picture.

CHO: Media overflow.

ROBERTS: Media leak -- media leak going into the brink. Now, media overflow. CHO: Overflow is great. I like it.

Oh, well, if you got a "Hot Shot," send it to us. It's hard to top that one. Head to our Web site CNN.com/am and follow the "Hot Shot" link.

ROBERTS: If they were set up in a stall, you could talk about the quality of coverage.

Most of the political talk has been about Texas and Ohio where the bulk of the delegates are at stake today. But what about Vermont and Rhode Island? They are also there offering 36 delegates today. And with less than a hundred delegates separating Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, every delegate counts.

Sam Hemingway is a political reporter for the "Burlington Free Press." He is in Vermont. And Maureen Moakley is a political science professor from the University of Rhode Island and joins us this morning.

Sam, let's start with you. Delegates at stake here in Rhode Island is 21, 15 in Vermont. Not exactly a bonanza. But this year, almost every delegate counts.

SAM HEMINGWAY, "BURLINGTON FREE PRESS": Absolutely. And actually, Barack Obama needs a firewall, this would be it. He's got a good lead in the polls.

ROBERTS: Yes.

HEMINGWAY: If he cracks 60 percent, he could actually get more delegates here proportionately than any other state. That's his campaign's argument, so they've got a lot of folks on the ground and they've been working hard.

ROBERTS: Maureen, you heard Sam there say that Barack Obama has got a commanding lead in the state of Vermont. It's the reverse there in Rhode Island where Hillary Clinton leads. How do you explain the differences? The states are very close together. They're separated only by Massachusetts and yet the voter preferences are completely reversed.

MAUREEN MOAKLEY, UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND: Well, first of all, you know, Hillary Clinton has long and deep roots here and that's one thing. Secondly, this is more of a union, working class state. So, you know, what we figure is, I guess, it's going to be a close race. I mean, Obama is gaining ground, but the expectation is that she'll be able to pull this off.

ROBERTS: Right. So, Sam, are the issues that different between Rhode Island and Vermont?

HEMINGWAY: I don't know. I know that up here the war is a big issue, even though the polls say the economy is the number one. I think the war strike is the deepest cord up here. And the other thing I'd say is this is the house -- of course, the home of Howard Dean four years ago. The state got pretty excited about his race.

MOAKLEY: Yes.

HEMINGWAY: And I think a lot of the Dean folks are now working with Obama.

ROBERTS: Right. Maureen, you mentioned that Rhode Island is the state that's perhaps a little more heavily tilted toward unions than Vermont is.

MOAKLEY: Right.

ROBERTS: What are the issues there that the candidates are addressing that lean to Hillary Clinton's favor?

MOAKLEY: Well, what makes it -- what leans to Hillary Clinton is the whole idea of the economy. We have a statewide terrible deficits and real concern about unemployment. So I think that feeds into a general concern about the economy which plays into Hillary's strengths. Don't misunderstand, Obama is gaining strength and he's very popular with young people. But all things being equal, the expectation is it will be a close race.

ROBERTS: Yes.

MOAKLEY: But she'll be able to pull it out.

ROBERTS: Sam, isn't the economy a big issue there in Vermont as well? You mentioned perhaps the number one issue was the war. But aren't people worried about the economy and where it's headed?

HEMINGWAY: I think so, especially going to a gas pump and having to pay so much. And I think they're watching what's going on nationally. Our economy here is OK. It's not great. There's talk in the legislature of how to tighten belts, but I don't think it's the issue it is in Ohio and some of the rest of the states. So, you know, sure, it's on folks' minds. But as I come back to say and did before, I think the war is number one still here.

ROBERTS: Maureen, on the Democratic side, we've seen record turnout literally in every state where there's been either a primary or a caucus so far. In the year 2000, when you had the big turnout there in Rhode Island, you had 257 polling places; 177 will be open this time around today.

Apparently, Rhode Island has registered 43,000 new voters in the past year. That's almost as many as voted in 2004. And almost 50 percent of those are between the ages of 18 and 29. I mean, there's huge excitement in that state for this election. Are you going to be able to handle all those people with just 177 polling places?

MOAKLEY: Well, we're hoping we're not going to have an electoral fandango. There is huge excitement, and we do expect turnout to be very high. And we know there has been a lot of registration. The only thing is more recent registrations, the question about students getting so involved, you have to register 30 days before the fact. ROBERTS: Yes.

MOAKLEY: And in terms of the Obama campaign, I'm not sure they're in line to be able to vote. So they've been very helpful in terms of working the campaign, but I'm not sure about that, whether or not the turnout will be so significant.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, we'll see. We'll keep on watching that. The polls open in Rhode Island very soon. They're already open there in Vermont. And while the two big prizes, of course, are Texas and Ohio, you can't forget about the Ocean State. You can't forget about Vermont either.

Sam Hemingway, Maureen Moakley, thanks very much for being with us. Good to see you.

MOAKLEY: Thank you.

ROBERTS: All right. Take care. Have a great day -- Alina.

CHO: All right. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning." They claimed it was the miracle cold buster. But now, the makers of Airborne are busted. Why they're being forced to pay up. That's coming up.

And we're watching extreme weather on the move right now. Snow in Texas overnight. A mess of snow and ice for Ohio. Remember, these are crucial voting states today. We'll have that story and the rest of the day's news when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: That's one nasty looking radar out there. That's where the weather is. You can see Ohio, just sort of in the lower left-hand side. That weather stretching all the way up into New England. It also stretches all the way down and it splits into a "Y" there. The part on the left goes down into Arkansas where they've got some snow happening right there and lots of it in Missouri.

And then, the other part of that one just kind of dives straight down. It goes all the way down to the Gulf Coast of Alabama. So, bad weather across a huge swathe of the country today.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: And 60 degrees in the forecast for New York City. It's hard to believe.

ROBERTS: Yes, for today. It might change. But the weather very important because this is Tuesday, March the 4th. Call it crucial Tuesday, critical Tuesday, Super Tuesday to junior Super Tuesday, whatever moniker you want to attach to it, big political day. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm John Roberts.

CHO: Maybe Hillary Clinton's last stand. We shall see. Good morning, everybody, I'm Alina Cho. Kiran has the morning off. ROBERTS: Well, we start with this crucial Tuesday, where polls are opening in Ohio right now. Vermont has been voting for 30 minutes. Rhode Island starts in half an hour and Texas gets going 90 minutes from now. We are live in all of the battleground states today. This half hour we check in with Jim Acosta, he's in Ohio. Ali Velshi is in Texas and Dan Lothian in Williston, Vermont. Let's start with Jim Acosta in Cleveland for what looks like a messy primary day ahead in Ohio.

What's the weather there right now, Jim? Is it rain, snow? None of the above?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a little bit of a mix right now, John. But so far, no problems out on the roads according to all of those local reporting that we're hearing from the local stations here in Cleveland. So, we'll have to wait and see whether or not that turns out to be a factor. But voting officials, election officials across the state are expecting a record turnout today. And the big issue is the economy here.

As you know, they are expecting -- political analysts in this state are expecting Ohioans to vote heavily on the issues of NAFTA and free trade agreements, because the state has been disseminated by factory closings across the Buckeye State. That is exactly what they're expecting voters to do. And it's unclear whether or not that dusts up in the Obama campaign over alleged signals that one of his advisers sent to Canadian officials over his support or lack of support over NAFTA, will have an effect on voters. We'll just have to wait and see on that.

But there are 141 delegates up for grabs in Ohio. Those will be split proportionally depending on the final outcome tonight. And this is considered to be one of those critical fire walls for Hillary Clinton, who is expected to spend the night in Columbus tonight to watch those returns come in.

And as you expected, or as you said, John, weather is a big factor here. Forecasters are calling for a wintry mix. That could be a factor up here in Cleveland which is expected to be a strong base of support for Barack Obama. If the weather suppresses the turnout here in Cleveland, that could help Hillary Clinton. We'll just have to wait and see. But this is Cleveland, after all and they know all about wintry mixes.

John?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. And you're also talking about two campaigns that have incredible ground games and know how to get people out to the polls despite the type of weather that they've got there today.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Jim Acosta for us this morning. Jim, thanks very much.

CHO: Well, in Vermont, polls in some locations opened about half an hour ago. Vermont has 15 delegates at stake for the Democrats, 17 for the Republicans. Dan Lothian is in Williston, Vermont this morning.

So Dan, what are the voters paying attention to this morning as they head to the polls?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as you heard a few minutes ago, people here care about some of the same issues that other voters across the country also care about. Healthcare, the environment, the economy, but certainly the one issue that does stand out here is the war in Iraq. This is a very liberal state. There is a large anti-war element here in the state.

And in fact, Alina, whenever there is military personnel from here who dies over in Iraq, it is almost like a state funeral that takes place here. The governor, other elected officials will visit the town. They will reach out to family members. So this is something that is certainly in the minds of the voters here as they head to the polls today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATE MATTINA, VOTER: I think the most important thing for me is the war.

NOAH POLLACK, VOTER: We really need an administration that has a different perspective on global affairs, kind of uses cooperation as opposed to unilateralism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had maybe more than our share of casualties in Iraq. It's felt across the state. It's, you know, whether it's north or southern Vermont, you know, it's front-page news. And I think, it's felt deeply.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: The secretary of state's office expecting a very strong turnout here, not only because of the issue of the war in Iraq but also because of the tight race on the Democratic side. But one of the things that could sort of turn all of this upside down, you've been talking so much about the weather. Expected here, some ice storms later in the day. So, we'll see how that impacts the voter turnout.

Alina?

CHO: Hey, and Dan, I know, it's early polls just opened about 30 minutes ago as we just mentioned. But you know, how is it at that polling station there? It's not open yet at your polling station, right?

LOTHIAN: Right, exactly. This one does not open for another half hour or so. But again, you know, they're really expecting that the folks here will turn out. There's been a lot of enthusiasm here. I was talking to some folks out on the street yesterday. And they were telling me that they feel that this is a good position that they're in because for the first time people are paying attention to Vermont certainly.

They're not getting the kind of attention that they're getting in Ohio or Texas, but certainly every delegate counts, and so Vermont is important this time around.

CHO: Certainly does in this tight race.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

CHO: All right, Dan Lothian live for us in Vermont this morning. Dan, thank you.

And stay with CNN for the best coverage of today's crucial voting leading up to a special edition of Election Center with results from Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont. Of course, that starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight right here on CNN.

And make sure you set your alarm early to be back here tomorrow for a special early edition of AMERICAN MORNING. John and Kiran firing up at 5:00 a.m. Eastern time with the final numbers and analysis from the Best Political Team on TV.

ROBERTS: I guess we should say that while polls open in Vermont, not every poll opened, just some of them.

CHO: That's right, just some of them. But they're trickling open and voter turnout should be high.

ROBERTS: Everybody got a chance to vote today.

CHO: That's right.

ROBERTS: Politics of course is our big story, but other headlines are out there this morning.

And new today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East right now, pushing for a quick resumption of the Israeli- Palestinian peace talks. The first stop was in Cairo, trying to enlist the help of Egyptian leaders. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas suspended talks after an Israeli incursion into Gaza that killed more than a hundred Palestinians. Israel was responding to rocket attacks by Hamas militants in Gaza. Rice took both the task for the deteriorating security situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Ultimately, the answer to extremism, ultimately the answer to the indignities that the Palestinian people endure, ultimately the answer to a stable peace and security for the Israeli people is to establish two states living side by side in peace and security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Secretary Rice is also meeting with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in the West Bank in Jerusalem today. Iran defies the United Nations and says new sanctions will not make it suspend its nuclear program. The U.N. Security Council ordered a third set of sanctions against Iran yesterday. Diplomat says it's a message of global concern that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

A new warning about the safety of health clinics across the country. The Centers for Disease Control is suggesting the recent outbreak of Hepatitis C at a clinic in Nevada could be just the tip of the iceberg. The head of the CDC blames the outbreak on sloppy infection control practices like nurses reusing syringes and vials, passing the infection from patient to patient. The Nevada Clinic was shutdown after it was learned six patients have contracted Hepatitis C due to unsafe practices.

And the makers of the herbal formula "Airborne" agreeing to refund customers more than $23 million. The settlement comes after a class action suit over false advertising. The popular formula originally claimed that it could fend off the common cold, claims that the company had no research to support.

Well, Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" for us this morning. He's in Bandera, Texas today. And he joins us now. He's been traveling the state on the CNN Election Express talking to voters about the economy.

Ali, what have you been hearing from folks there?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, while all the other reporters you've got are at big events where things are going to be happening, we're going to be watching the results come in at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar here in Bandera, Texas, where the Cowboy Town, a pretty Republican place, but we've met a lot of Democratic supporters around here.

We've been talking to people mainly about the economy or at least that's what they're offering up as their major issue. We spoke to one woman yesterday. Listen to what she told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM PAXSON, TEXAS GRAPHIC DESIGNER: We've painted our self in a corner with stagflation. We have borrowed so heavily. We shipped out our jobs -- you know good jobs, not only blue collar, but also our I.T. jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now, she mentioned stagflation. It's something that's been sort of buzzing around. We haven't really heard as much about it. But there have been some people saying that we're in a position where we could get into stagflation. We remember that from the late '70s and '80s where inflation was very high and growth was very low. And in order to fix that, the Fed can either raise or lower interest rates. When inflation is high, there raise rates. When it's low and growth is low, they reduce rates to stimulate growth, but when you've got them going in the other direction that becomes a problem. But let's just take a look when he had stagflation back in 1980. Look at the difference between now and 1980. Inflation was 13 1/2 percent.

In 2007, according to the government, inflation was 2.8 percent. Now, we have a lot of people who don't really agree with those numbers. But it might be a little bit higher than 2.8 percent. We're nowhere near the 13.5 percent. Then look at the other numbers. Unemployment, above 7 percent then. In 2007, it was 4.6 percent on average.

We're a little higher on the unemployment side, too. We're at about 4.9 percent. And look at GDP, back in 1980, 0.1 percent. We do know that GDP growth, even though it was above 2 percent in 2007 is slowing down. That's the growth of the economy. We're slowing down dramatically. But we're some distance away from what we remember as being stagflation.

I just want to let people know that as they're talking about that, we're not experiencing stagflation right now. There's some threat of that happening. We're going to be back in a little while. We're here at the polling station in Bandera and hopefully, we'll see some people showing up pretty soon to open if up.

John?

ROBERTS: I guess probably about an hour and 20 minutes from now. But Ali, we'll stay with you. Thanks very much. We'll see you soon.

Alina?

CHO: Coming up. Lunch pale politics. Why NAFTA is looming so large in a state that's critical both today and in November. And wet weather paving the way to the polls in Ohio and Texas and into Vermont this morning. You're looking live right there in Cleveland where it could be a wintry mess later. Rob Marciano, tracking it all for us for this Election Day. We'll check in with him later on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Had a shot this morning from the streets of Cleveland. Just looks a little wet there right now. But as we progress throughout the morning, it's expected to get much worse, either heavy rain, heavy rain mixed with sleet or even progressing all the way to snow which could make this for a somewhat nightmarish day to try to get out to the polls for that all-important Ohio primary.

Also, we've got a possible tornado ripping through a National Guard barracks in Mississippi, just a little while ago. So we'll check in on that, too. Our Rob Marciano with the extreme weather center down there in Atlanta.

Any information on what's going on in the south there, Rob? (WEATHER REPORT)

CHO: We're going to move now to the NAFTA factor. We're talking about the North American Free Trade agreement. It dates back to the Clinton administration. And ever since, thousands of factory workers in Ohio say their jobs have disappeared, many to Mexico.

This morning, Barack Obama on the defense about it. A memo surfaced yesterday indicating that a top Obama aid told Canadian officials that Obama's position on NAFTA is more about politics than policy. That aide says his statement were mischaracterize. But yesterday, Hillary Clinton questioned Obama's true intentions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He sends out misleading and false information about my position regarding NAFTA. And then we find out that your chief economic adviser has gone to a foreign government and basically done the old wink, wink, don't pay any attention, this is just political rhetoric. I think that raises serious questions.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This notion that Senator Clinton is peddling, that somehow there is contradictions or winks and nods has been disputed by all the parties involved. What's not disputed is that Senator Clinton and her husband championed NAFTA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: The age-old question, experiences versus change. How will this matter at the polls. John Dickerson, CNN's political analyst and chief political correspondent for slate.com.

Hey, John, good morning. So somebody I spoke to this morning whom I trust said this is a day and a half story coming at exactly the wrong time in exactly the wrong state for Obama. So how much traction do you think it's going to have in the voting booth today?

JOHN DICKERSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, NAFTA is a crucial issue in Ohio. They've lost hundreds of thousands of jobs since 2000. When you look at the polls and ask voters what they care the most about, the economy polls way ahead of any other issue. And this is a problem for Obama on two fronts.

Both Obama and Clinton have over emphasized their opposition to NAFTA in this state. But for Obama, it's kind of caught him up. It gets in the way of his message in the closing arguments here. And it's a bit of a problem for him because it's turned into a multiple day story that could have been fixed.

The aid at the center of this could have been put out for reporters. They could have a full airing. Instead, there were kind of contradictory claims from the campaign. They never actually put the aide out for reporters. And the reason that's a problem for Obama is he's running a new kind of campaign in which he said I'm going to have excessive transparency. And when I get into the White House, I'm going to have operations that are open -- that will be on C-span. So to sort of closet this aide at this moment looks a lot like sort of regular old politics.

CHO: Well, in fact, at the press conference in Chicago at a certain point, Obama said listen, I've had enough with the questions. He walked off. Listen, Clinton said she's just getting warmed up. The media likes to make a lot of the fact that this is her last stand. How important are Ohio and Texas for her today? You know, even her husband says she may -- she does have to win those two states. But can she win just Ohio? Is that enough for her?

DICKERSON: If she just wins Ohio, it becomes very, very hard for her to make the case. Look, Barack Obama has won 11 states in a row. He's got more pledge delegates, more people. He's got the momentum. He's won all across the country, all across the demographic groups.

And so, for Clinton to battle back, she needs to win both these states and put together a story that is compelling enough to convince those super delegates, who've been trending in Obama's way because of his impressive victories.

John Dickerson, CNN political analyst and chief political correspondent for Slate.com. John, thank you.

That brings us to our "Quick Vote" and this morning's question is, should NAFTA be renegotiated, canceled, or left alone? Cast your vote, cnn.com/am. We're going to have the first tally of votes coming up a little bit later on in the program.

ROBERTS: Hey, we just want to point something out and correct something here as well. We have said that the polls in Vermont opened at 6:00 a.m. this morning. Apparently, they had the option of opening at 6:00 a.m. rather than 7:00 a.m., but no polling place has chosen to do that. That's why we haven't seen anybody out there yet. So, everything is going to be opening up in Vermont in about nine minutes' time. Get ready. You'll be up to the races.

A lucky shot, an avalanche. It is out of this world. It's one of cnn.com's most popular stories right now. We'll tell where it happened.

And what if Hillary Clinton wins Texas and Ohio? Or what if Barack Obama wins both? Or what if each one of them wins? Now you can play the delegate count game. Our Veronica de la Cruz shows us how, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Well, it's your chance to play Karl Rove or any other campaign strategist out there. How can Hillary Clinton catch up to Barack Obama or how quickly can John McCain sew everything up?

You can find out on cnn.com's delegate counter game. CNN estimates that Barack Obama is leading the total delegate count, but he is still 647 short of the 2025 needed to sew up the Democratic nomination. Our Veronica de la Cruz shows us how to break down the numbers at cnn.com.

Good morning to you.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you.

So, let's go and play this game. As you were just saying, 2025 delegates total needed to win, John. Taking a look at the numbers, still pretty tight race. Obama in the lead though, 1,378 compared to Clinton's 1,269.

So, let's go ahead and take a look at the way these contests are going to play out today. As we all know, the big races today happening in Ohio and in Texas. Now in Ohio, there are about 141 delegates up for grabs.

Let's just say, hypothetically speaking, that Clinton does well in Ohio tonight. She stays ahead in the polls. And then, you know, we wake up tomorrow, she still has a chance. We're not quite sure who the nominee is going to be.

But if Barack Obama takes both Texas and Ohio, remember 193 delegates up for grabs there. Then you know that Senator Clinton is going to have a hard time staying in the race.

ROBERTS: Right and what about on the Republican side?

DE LA CRUZ: OK. Well, taking a look at the Republican race. As you know, McCain has a huge, huge lead over Huckabee, 1,047 compared to 247. 1,191 delegates total needed, John. And taking a look at the way the race is going to play out today, 256 total delegates up for grabs there.

And I think that John McCain, at this point, only needs about 144. So if he has a good night, then it's safe to say we wake up in the morning and we can very well be declaring him the GOP nominee.

ROBERTS: Yes. I guess the only thing that could sort of slow him down a little bit is that there is some proportionality in both Texas and Rhode Island. So, Mike Huckabee could take some away, but maybe not enough.

DE LA CRUZ: But still really mathematically difficult at this point, you know.

ROBERTS: It's been mathematically difficult for him for weeks, but he stays in.

Veronica, thanks very much. Try it at home or at the office to play the delegate counter game on cnnpolitics.com.

Alina?

CHO: Well, any voter in Texas can vote in either party's primary today. Just ahead, we're looking at where cross-over voters and independents will make the biggest impact. Stay with us for that. And getting through airport security lines could soon become less of a headache. The head of Homeland Security is calling for a big plan to ease delay. That's ahead, too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Super Tuesday, take two. Obama and McCain eye the finish line. Clinton needs a jumpstart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can be sure your votes count in '08 here in Ohio.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: We're live as polls open right now.

Extreme weather wild card. The wintry mix that could put voters on ice.

Plus, crisis management. The Secretary of State arrives at the Mid East overnight. Can she rescue the peace talks? On this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: And good morning to you. Thanks very much for being with us.

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